Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Speech on the occasion of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Dereck Springer, Director of PANCAP Coordinating Unit
Speech on the occasion of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
I am pleased to have been invited by SASOD to deliver remarks at this event to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia which is being held under the theme “Free Expression”. My own interpretation of this theme is “I am, Let me be”. This event is being supported by PANCAP/CVC-COIN through the PANCAP Global Fund Round 9 grant.
I particularly note that this day was set aside to draw the attention of policy makers, opinion leaders, social movements, the media, and the public in general to the issues of violence and discrimination affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and to promote a world of tolerance, respect and freedom regardless of people’s sexual orientations or gender identities.
According to UNAIDS 2013 Global Report the Caribbean has made significant progress in combatting HIV, including a decline in prevalence from 1.3% in 2001 to 1% in 2012 with a 49% reduction in new infections between 2001 and 2012, over 90% coverage of services to prevent mother to child transmission, and a 70% coverage rate for ARVs.
Despite these achievements, the HIV epidemic continues to significantly impact some key populations including MSM, sex workers, youth and people who use drugs. A 2012 Lancet study estimates MSM prevalence in the Caribbean to be the highest in the world at 25.4%. 
The region is at a critical point where further progress towards an AIDS-free Caribbean is premised on mobilizing a strong and coordinated multi-sectoral effort to remove the legal, social and cultural barriers that prevent universal access to a wide range of comprehensive and high quality health services.  Eleven CARICOM states have laws which criminalize consensual sex between same sex adults. Recent studies conducted by the Health Policy Project in selected countries have found stigma and discriminatory practices present across all levels of staff in health systems. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law has found that countries that criminalize same-sex sexual activity have higher HIV prevalence rates among MSM than countries that do not.  Specific to the Caribbean, stigma is cited as the main reason for the lack of attention to marginalised groups in the prevention efforts, and their general lack of access to HIV-related services, and stigmatising and discriminatory legal and policy measures are common in the regional legal systems. In recognition of these challenges, the Caribbean Regional Strategic Framework (CRSF) 2014-2018 is grounded on the understanding that ending HIV is not possible until the human rights of all people, and particularly those most vulnerable to HIV, are fully realized.
The Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) is collaborating with UNAIDS to implement a programme of activities under the theme, Justice for All. The aim of the programme is to promote activities consistent with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which all countries are committed. More specifically, it is intended to achieve one of the goals of the United Nations High Level Meeting Political Declaration (2011) to eliminate stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV by 2015 and to uphold the human rights and dignity of all. It is consistent with UNAIDS’ seven key programmes to reduce stigma and discrimination and increase access to justice and build on the findings and recommendations of the Caribbean Regional Dialogue of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. In this regard national consultations have been held in Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, Suriname, and St. Kitts & Nevis, and a Caribbean Consultation on Justice for All and Human Rights agenda was held in April in Jamaica. Other countries are scheduled to convene national consultations in 2014.  A Justice for All Roadmap has been developed as an outcome of a literature review and national and the regional consultations with four priority areas geared towards; i) increasing access to treatment including affordable medicines; ii) reducing gender inequality including violence against women; iii) promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights; and iv) achieving legislative reform by modifying and repealing discriminatory laws. A PANCAP Declaration - GETTING TO ZERO DISCRIMINATION THROUGH JUSTICE FOR ALL has also been developed and will be presented to Heads of Government at their Conference in July 2014 for endorsement.
There are encouraging signs in relation to law reform and shifting attitudes towards LGBT. The Caribbean Court of Justice recently granted Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican, Special Leave for the case to go forward to allow further examination of the free movement issue and what constitutes undesirable etc. The statement by the Court that both Belize and T&T “agree that being a homosexual cannot, as such, qualify a CARICOM national as an “undesirable person” within the meaning of the 2007 Conference Decision.” The results of UNAIDS Regional Support Team online poll conducted in selected Caribbean countries provide evidence that there is a positive change occurring in the Caribbean society as more people report accepting attitudes toward gay men. The PANCAP Model Anti-discrimination Legislation which was approved by the CARICOM Legal Affairs Committee in July 2012 is being used as the basis for national dialogue on Justice for All.
I hasten to point out however that this progress, though nascent, is due primarily to bold advocacy at the community, national, regional and global level. SASOD’s resolute efforts in this area of calling attention to and working towards the achievements of rights for LGBT persons must be commended and must be seen in the context of a bottom up approach which serves as a catalyst for change among policy makers and gatekeepers including faith, youth, CSOs and private sector leaders and the media.  
SASOD must also be commended for the work it has started in helping our society to ‘take the time to understand’ - to understand our diversity and to respect persons whose sexual identity is different from theirs.
We must also take the time to help people to acknowledge that everyone has values irrespective of how those values are different from theirs. At a personal level we must do our own introspection to ensure that our work is geared towards valuing the diversity of all people and seeing everyone as a valid part of that diversity. In so doing we would be demonstrating that we are willing to address the prejudice in ourselves and others.
I believe that SASOD has helped open a new era in history and stormed the gates of the status quo with the confidence that collectively you would prevail.
Our dreams for change must be big. Our strategies must be big too. I remain confident that those of us who stand on the side of justice for all will continue to also influence change from the bottom up by remaining steadfast in our quest for social inclusion, through the removal of legal, social and cultural barriers in the Caribbean that deny people their rights and enjoyment of the freedom to be.  PANCAP will continue to advocate at the policy level and mobilise resources to support efforts aimed achieving justice for all.
I salute SASOD on convening this commemorative event and launching its SASOD Cine Campaign.

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